By Justin Sink
The Republican National Committee (RNC) on Monday blasted President Obama's 2008 campaign manager and senior White House aide David Plouffe after a news report revealed he accepted a $100,000 speaking fee from a South African telecommunications firm with ties to Iran.
Plouffe gave a pair of speeches in Nigeria in December 2010, before he joined the White House staff and before MTN Group — the South African firm — came under new scrutiny for its business practices in Iran and Syria, The Washington Post reported Monday. And while Plouffe did not violate the law or ethics obligations for White House employees — he was a private citizen at the time — Republicans believe the revelation could prove politically potent.
In a statement to the Post, White House spokesman Eric Shultz said such criticism was unfair because MTN Group drew the ire of watchdog groups months after Plouffe spoke.
“He gave two speeches on mobile technology and digital communications and had no separate meetings with the company’s leadership,” Schultz told the paper. “At the time, not even the most zealous watchdog group on this issue had targeted the Iranian business interests of the host’s holding company. Criticism of Mr. Plouffe now for issues and controversies that developed only years later is simply misplaced.”
The White House also said an attorney for Plouffe advised the president's former campaign manager that there were not, at the time, any reasons for concern in accepting the invitation to speak. And the Obama campaign noted Monday that Mitt Romney's financial investments included at least one company with ties to Iran, while his aides have come under similar scrutiny.
"Mitt Romney is the same candidate who failed to keep his promise to get rid of any investments in companies that do business with Iran — his trust remained invested in these companies for years after his pledge to divest," said Obama campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt in an email. "Mitt Romney had a financial interest in Turkcell which is attempting to advance its business interest in Iran. We’re happy to have a debate over what clients Mitt Romney’s advisors have chosen to advise — from human rights abusers to Chinese oil companies — but what is more significant is Romney’s own failure to keep his word when it came to Iran divestment."
But the report could be a gift to Romney's presidential campaign, which in recent weeks has sharpened its attacks on the president's policies towards Iran. In a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention last month, Romney accused Obama of having "faltered when the Iranian people were looking for support in their struggle against the ayatollahs."
"At every turn, Iran must know that the United States and our allies stand as one in these critical objectives. Only in this way can we successfully counter the catastrophic threat that Iran presents," Romney continued. "I pledge to you and to all Americans that if I become commander-in-chief, I will use every means necessary to protect ourselves and the region, and to prevent the worst from happening while there is still time."
This story was updated at 9:35 a.m.